Orville Prescott: The Michiko of His Time

From the years 1942-1966, Orville Prescott served as the main daily book critic for the New York Times. It would seem to me, based on some of Prescott’s remarkable assessments, that Michiko Kakutani’s hostility against nearly almost anything fictional fits in with a long Gray Lady tradition of daily critics who remain mostly hostile to fiction.

On Lolita: “‘Lolita,’ then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.”

On Catch-22: “‘Catch-22,’ by Joseph Heller, is not an entirely successful novel. It is not even a good novel. It is not even a good novel by conventional standards.”

On The Floating Opera: “Most of this odd novel is dull. Most of its humor is labored and flat. Some of its heavy-handed attempts to shock seem cheap in a juvenile and nasty way rather than sophisticated or realistic, as they probably were intended.” (Never mind that Barth’s first novel is a beautifully twisted satire of Camus.)

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  1. And then there’s Prescott the bigot:

    http://books.guardian.co.uk/interviews/story/0,,2101279,00.html

    The City and the Pillar was both a succès fou and a dead end. We have hardly begun to talk about Vidal’s beginnings as ‘the Huck Finn of the younger novelists’ before he launches into a well-rehearsed assault on the tyranny of the New York Times, which he describes with relish as ‘a bad newspaper’. According to Vidal, the Times’s chief fiction reviewer, Orville Prescott, went to his publisher and declared of his novel, ‘This is a filthy and disgusting book about homosexuality. I will not only never review another book by Vidal, but I will never read one.’ This, says Vidal, stymied his upward mobility as a novelist throughout the Fifties: ‘If you didn’t get a daily review in the New York Times you didn’t exist as a novelist. It meant that everybody else, Time, Newsweek and all the other papers, would follow suit. You were out.’

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